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Are you ready for the Cape Town Cycle Tour?

cape-town-cycle-tour

It may still be January, but the Cape Town Cycle Tour is quietly shuffling closer and if you are a bicycle enthusiast – you certainly don’t want to miss one of the premier events on the South African calendar.

This is the largest, timed cycling event on the planet and in 2015, it will take place for the 38th time.

This beautiful race is set for Sunday, 8 March, which is a little over one month away – so if you are still carrying some ‘excess baggage’ from the festive season, you better step up that training.

Around 35 000 cyclists will queue up at the start line to take on the gruelling but majestic 109km route, which boasts views of iconic landmarks such as Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles.

The race starts in Cape Town and winds through the entire Peninsula. First you head past the University of Cape Town before seeing the sprawling vineyards of Constantia. A coastal stretch awaits as you pass through Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town before you start the trip back at Smitswinkel.

The world renowned Chapman’s Peak is bound to take your breath away as you head into the scenic Hout Bay, before closing in on the finish line along the stunning Atlantic Seaboard.

Unfortunately, general entries for South African riders have closed for the 2015 but there may still be a chance for you to enter through a participating charity.
For full details on the event, you can check out their Cape Town Cycle Tour official website (www.cycletour.co.za) or you can contact the media office on 021 686 0222.

There are also a number of festivities that take place on race day in many of the towns that the cyclists speed through, while viewing spots are setup along the entire route.

Whether you will be on the bike to burn rubber on Cape Town’s main roads, or just want to be a part of the buzz, make sure that you jot the Cape Town Cycle Tour down in your diary – oh, and you may also want to take note of the road closures on the day to avoid any frustration!

Stellenbosch Wine Route – Don’t Dodge Die Bergkelder

fleur_du_cap_bergkelder_imageIt’s holiday time and if you are in the Western Cape, your vacation checklist should certainly have wine tasting near the top.

The Stellenbosch Wine Route ranks as one of the best in the world. This historic town has everything, from a vibrant student life due to the university, to scenic beauty and of course renowned wine estates.

Due to the size of the wine route, the area is divided into five sub-routes, namely Bottelary Hills, Greater Simonsberg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Valley and Stellenbosch Berg.

Today we take a closer look at one of the most popular estates in the area: Die Bergkelder.

The home of the award-winning Fleur Du Cap wines, this magnificent Wine Centre offers wine tasting in their “Cellar in the Mountain”, which is a truly unique experience in the area.
Die Bergkelder is situated on the slopes of Papegaaiberg, in the Stellenbosch Valley sub-route.

What makes this estate stand out is the fact that there are a number of other activities to enjoy along with the tasting and purchasing of world-class wines.

Take a stroll along the banks of the Plankenburg River – if you are in the area during harvesting season, this will give you the chance to see the tipping of red wine grapes.
The interesting Wine Museum allows you to take in a bit of history and see some of the equipment used to bottle the good stuff back in the day.

Die Bergkelder is also home to an underground bottle-maturation cellar, a first in the Southern Hemisphere.
Enjoy a professional tour, which is limited to 25 people at most, at just R40 per person – though this price could change slightly at any time, at the estate’s discretion.

Should you require any other information or have any questions regarding the estate before you visit, contact them directly on (021) 809 8025.

A key factor to remember is that you will need at least one whole day to get the chance to visit a few of the wine farms, so get up early and make sure you are on your chosen wine route by 09:00. Secondly, nominate a designated driver or make use of relevant services to ensure that the person behind the wheel has not been sampling.

Otherwise, top up those wine glasses and get to know Stellenbosch a little better!

Top 10 Christmas Presents For 2014

Christmas_presents_2416800bChristmas is almost upon us and to help avoid those last-minute shopping sprees for presents – we thought we would pick out the top 10 gifts to consider for 2014.

To cater for everyone in the family, we will pick out some of the popular options across the board. Here are some excellent gift ideas for 2014, in no particular order:

Gift Vouchers:

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that gift vouchers are impersonal. In fact, they are a really thoughtful gift when giving someone an amount they can work with. Unless you know exactly which store the recipient loves to shop at, consider getting centre vouchers which allow the person to visit any store they please.

Video Game Console:

Nowadays, video game consoles can be appreciated by the whole family and are no longer a distraction for the kids only. A PlayStation 4 or Xbox One also doubles as an entertainment system. Just be sure to take note of the age restrictions on the games when buying for younger kids.

GoPro Camera:

These popular, rugged cameras have become highly popular accessories in South Africa. Capture incredible footage of your outdoor adventures and with summer getting underway, this is the perfect time for this gift.

Blu-Ray/DVD’s/Music:

The gift of music or movies never gets old – whether you find some old classics or the latest releases.

A Special Bottle:

If the recipient is 18-years-old or older, why not consider a decent bottle of whisky, brandy, rum or wine. It is the festive season and this gift will definitely come in handy.

Braai:

Whether you want to splash out on gas options, something portable or a big Weber – there are not many men out there who would be unhappy with a quality braai.

Lego:

These timeless blocks are ideal for younger children. Promoting creativity and stimulating the imagination, Lego blocks essentially allow your children to create as many toys as they want.

Perfume:

A bottle of the good stuff is always welcome for the special lady in your life. Make sure it is her favourite scent though!

Headphones:

If you have a child that is in their teenage years, they will certainly appreciate a pair of quality headphones. With cellphones and media players as readily available as sweets, almost every teenager has a pair of headphones slung around their neck to enjoy their latest tunes.

Tools:

If your man is the DIY type, and you have seen him put together some makeshift solutions over the last year, why not get him the tools he was missing. He may not use them on the day, but they will come in handy over the next year.

Now that you have some ideas, hit the stores as soon as possible to beat the holiday rush – and have a joyous festive season!

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch

Navigating the Five Stellenbosch Wine Routes

When heading to the Western Cape, there is one activity that should make everybody’s itinerary – wine tasting in Stellenbosch. This magnificent town has a bit of everything, from vibrant bars and clubs thanks to the university, to historic landmarks due to Stellenbosch being the second oldest town in South Africa.

If you can mark out a few days to really explore the area, it would certainly be worthwhile as touring Stellenbosch, Paarl and other surrounding wine regions certainly requires more than one day.

Here are the five sub-routes that make up this magnificent stretch of vineyards, as well as some of their most popular estates.

Bottelary Hills:

This sub-route of Stellenbosch boasts 18 magnificent wine farms. Try the likes of Beyerskloof to sample some of the most amazing red wines or head to the magnificent Bellevue Estate. A stop at the Bottelary Hills Wine Centre is also a smart move to find out about everything on offer along this sub-route.

Greater Simonsberg:

Your choices significantly increase on this sub-route, with no less than 34 wineries located here. The Alluvia Specialist Winery is an award-winning estate that also boasts world-class, luxury accommodation. Delheim is a favourite among the locals while Kanonkop Wine Estate is one of South Africa’s leading red wine producers.

Helderberg:

The gigantic Helderberg sub-route has 43 wineries on show, all of them offering a unique tasting experience. Visit Ernie Els Wines, an estate owned by The Big Easy, arguably South Africa’s most famous golfer. A number of prestigious and older estates also call this route home, from Kings Kloof to Lourensford.

Stellenbosch Berg:

A slightly smaller stretch, this sub-route boasts 18 wineries. Blaauwklippen offers stunning views and a comfortable tasting room on the slopes of Stellenbosch Mountain, and is also one of the oldest wine farms in the country. Lanzerac is also a farm to take note of, being the home of the world’s first bottled Pinotage.

Stellenbosch Valley:

This part of Stellenbosch offers 39 wineries. Die Bergkelder is a highly popular estate which is the home of Fleur Du Cap wines while The House of JC Le Roux is South Africa’s leading producer of sparkling wines and a must for those who love a little bubbly!

Now that you know your way around, take those leave days and head off to the Western Cape.Just one other tip, you may want to pack a few more headache tablets for those ‘bright and noisy’ mornings after…

The Hermanus Whale Festival

Get Ready to Have a Whale of a Time in Hermanus

As winter’s icy grip slowly releases the Western Cape from its death grip, locals know that the spectacular Hermanus Whale Festival is just around the corner!

This year, the event will run from 3-6 October 2014. An enviro-arts festival, visitors will enjoy a treat of live music, feasting and loads of activities.
And let’s not forget about the main attraction – the whales. The Southern Right whales head into the waters of Hermanus for calving and mating during this time – making this the premier spot in South Africa to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures.

As they frolic in the waters, there are a wide variety of ways to watch them swim and breach. There are numerous cliffs along the coastline for a look through the binoculars. You can also find the renowned Whale Crier, who alerts visitors when there are viewing opportunities on offer.
Not close enough for you? There are boat rides or kayaking trips for exhilarating experiences on the water. You can even catch a whale flight where you can see countless whales in the bay from up high when visibility is good.

Turning our attention back to the festivities now – there are a variety of events to cater for all tastes. Those into fitness and adventure should take a look at the Cliff Path Night Run from New Harbour to Grotto Beach (10km and 6km) happening just after the festival, on Wednesday 8 October 2014.

The live music and shows are definitely a highlight and this year you can look forward to performances from the likes of Mark Haze and GoodLuck over the course of the weekend of the festival.

There are also informative eco-experiences and child-friendly outings that will cater for entire families. Other events happening include the Whales ‘n Wheels Classic Car Show, for fans of four-wheeled beasts, as well as the Flower Show.

While you are in Hermanus, there are also a number of other attractions you should consider seeing. The Soldiers Memorial Museum offers some interesting history while the Whale House Museum is also worth checking out. Golfing in this area is a real treat for the sporting types.
If you are more interested in fiercer sea creatures, consider a shark cage diving trip in Gaansbaai – the Great White Shark capital of the world.

Don’t stress if you cannot make it to Hermanus for the specific festival dates – as there are viewing opportunities throughout October, and Hermanus is welcoming all-year round.

From insurance to tour guide: Alex’s Story (Part 2)

So there I was packed and ready for the weekend to arrive. I was to leave early Sunday morning to take up the challenge in Oudtshoorn of becoming a German-speaking guide at Highgate Ostrich farm. Waiting was not one of my strengths and it was only Thursday. Boredom set in, so I started paging through the yellow pages (an antiquated book of business addresses throughout South Africa) when I came across a Cape Town-based business called Tours & Trails. It sounded intriguing and the fact that I loved the outdoors and was a dedicated scout who had hiked most of the mountains around Cape Town urged me to be spontaneous and take a chance. After all, I had nothing to lose.

I picked up the phone and dialled the number for African Tours & Trails.

A lady answered and asked how she could help. I replied by saying that I would love to work for the company and enquired whether they had a vacancy for me. She asked me to hold while she spoke with her boss and shortly returned to the phone with the unfortunate news that they had no vacancies available. She did, however, say that she would like to take down my details for future reference. Before divulging anything else, I informed her that I spoke German, Afrikaans and English and that I had just been accepted to become a guide on the Highgate Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn. I’d be leaving Cape Town on Sunday to take up my new post as a predominantly German-speaking guide. She paused for a second and asked me to hold once more. She returned shortly, a bit more enthusiastic, and asked me if I was available to come down to their office for an interview in 20 minutes. Without hesitation, I accepted her offer.

Being the punctual person I am, I made it to town in ten minutes and arrived with a knock at the door on the dot. I was shown to a small waiting room by a friendly young lady by the name of Miriam, who I later found was also a tea maker, shopping assistant and receptionist – pretty much a Jack of all trades. She was even in charge of overseeing the day-to-day running of the business.

After waiting for about ten minutes, I was called into an office. Awaiting me was a large man almost 2 meters tall. He was seated behind an equally large desk in a reclining swivel chair. He greeted me and started the interview by asking me what my knowledge of Cape Town was and why I wanted to become a tour guide. My response was that I enjoyed showing people around and often read up on the different places I hiked in order to educate myself so that I could navigate the area better and speak about it when guiding hikers. I informed him about my post at the ostrich farm and that I was to leave on Sunday to be the German-speaking guide.

As the interview drew to a close, he stood up and said, “If you’d like, you can start working for us.” Surprised at his unexpected offer, I obviously had a few questions about office hours, which clothing I would have to wear and when I would start. I also still had to phone and cancel the job in Oudtshoorn.

Without delay he handed me a set of keys which belonged to a blue minivan parked at the entrance outside. The minivan had “FRONT ROW TOURS Gives You the Best View” printed in bold letters across the side. This got me wondering how I had managed to end up at Front Row Tours after calling Tours and Trails. It turned out that Front Row Tours did not do trails but had partnered with a second company called African Tours & Trails, which was an incoming tour operation from America that brought in tourists who were taken on guided tours by Front Row Tours.

After establishing some middle ground and proving that I did indeed own a valid driver’s licence, the owner proceeded to inform me that I would be starting the next day and that my first job would be to do the usual Cape Town city tour in the morning. I would have to pick up the guests from their various hotels at different times and once I had them all aboard I was to proceed with the tour. Slightly overwhelmed, I informed him that I had never done a tour of that nature and did not know what was expected of me for a 4-hour tour. In a calm and cool manor, his response was that I was to pick up the last guests at the Mount Nelson Hotel and collect the money for the tour from each guest (R7 per person in those days). I was to proceed to the cable station and accompany the guests up Table Mountain, show them around the conservation and explain some fun facts about the city.

After Table Mountain I was to drive through the Malay Quarter and then on to the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa’s oldest European-built fortress. There I was to meet up and join with a fellow guided tour group and finally proceed to the South African museum to show them the Bushman and Hottentots exhibition. I then had to take everyone back to their respective hotels and return to the office for the afternoon tour.

Hesitantly, I yet again informed him that I had never done anything of the sort before, after which he got up from his swivel chair and moved over to a bookshelf and pulled out an A4-size book covered in brown paper with the words “Springbok Atlas Tours” printed on it. He tossed it to me and told me there was some material on the different tours he put together when he was still a Springbok Atlas coach driver and tour guide. I was told to read through it before going to bed and I would be able to do the tour successfully.

Those were his lasts words of the interview.

I couldn’t believe what had just happened and that a man I had met an hour ago had entrusted me with the keys to a tour bus, a guide book and a list of the names of passengers I was meant to pick up in the morning.

That afternoon I practiced finding all the hotels so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself trying to find them in the morning…. to be continued.

 

From insurance to tour guide: Alex’s story

The Beginning

It all started one day when my mother was returning from a holiday on her own, flying via Johannesburg to Cape Town. Arriving late, she missed her connecting flight as did many other passengers.

Amongst the passengers she spotted some German visitors and overheard the one woman telling her two daughters that they would just have to be patient until the next available flight. As it happened the German woman started chatting with my mother, soon striking up a friendly conversation. The German woman’s name was Karla and worked for Lufthansa and could fly for 10% of the costs. A perk of the job was that her daughters, Liesel and Mona, could join her on one long distance flight every two years.  This holiday, Liesel and Mona were joining Karla on a trip to visit friends in Cape Town.

Liesel and Mona seemed excited by the trip, but were uneasy about not knowing anyone their own age to hang out with and see the attractions of the Mother City while their mother was with her friends. My mother had a great idea and volunteered myself, (her son, Alex) to look after them by acting as their veritable tour guide, showing them Table Mountain, Long Street and proudly South African eateries.

When my mother arrived in back home in Cape Town, she promptly told me she had met three wonderful visitors of which two were my age and needed someone to show them the magic of Cape Town. I was incredulous but not surprised, knowing how much my mother liked to meddle. I was apprehensive, but decided to help as my mother seemed so excited.

A few days later, I received a call from Liesel.

“Howzit,” she said and laughed. “Sorry, I thought I should try out some South African slang.”

I laughed and told her not to worry.

“My name is Alex,” I said. “So what’s the plan?”

Liesel asked if I would take her and Mona to Club 604, which was found at on the top floor of the Heerengracht building in the CBD. She gave me the address of where they were staying and I said would meet them at 8pm.

When I arrived at the door, I wondered what the night had in store.

The door opened and I was greeted by a vision with blonde hair and dark green eyes. She introduced herself as Liesel and was the same age as me. Mona had the same green eyes as her older sister yet her hair was chestnut and wavy. What followed was a wonderful night of getting to know the sisters, who were charming, witty and friendly. After drinks and dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we went to the club and enjoyed the music and breath taking view.

The next day, I decided to take a half day from my job at an insurance firm to meet up with Liesel and Mona again.

We went out again for a delicious lunch of pap, wors and braaivleis and watched a rugby game. The whole afternoon and evening was even better than the first.

The third day, I didn’t go into work and took the sisters on a guided tour of Cape Point. To make sure I didn’t bungle it, I read up on the historical and geographical facts of the region. The sisters loved the tour and were amazed when I told them I had never given a tour before.

I decided to quit my job as I had been feeling unhappy for a while and, coupled with the enthusiasm for life the sisters had taught me, I felt it was necessary.

For the remainder of their stay, I took Liesel and Mona on tours of Table Mountain, Khayelitsha, Kalk Bay, Rhodes Memorial and even hired a car and travelled to the Cape Winelands and the Overberg.

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When the sisters had to return to Germany, they presented me with a present: a badge of Table Mountain made from beads and wire we had seen on our tour of the townships.

“We think you should follow your talent and become a tour guide,” Liesel said.

I decided to listen to their advice. I put out several ads and went on a few interviews but with little success. One day, a former classmate called and said they needed me immediately as a tour guide at their ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn.

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After a Skype interview, I got the job. Within a few days, I had moved to Oudtshoorn and started my new and fulfilling life as a tour guide –all thanks to my meddling mother and two great German tourists.

Images:

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Soccer culture in South Africa

1Although the origins of soccer can be traced back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC during the Han Dynasty, it is still largely associated with Europe. However, it’s the most widely played and most celebrated sport in South Africa – as well as the greater African continent – making it seem almost unique to the country. And while South Africa may not lead when it comes to this ancient sport, we’re certainly home to some of the most colourful and passionate fans. Along with a walking tour of the Soweto Township and braaiing with a group of South Africans, a soccer match is arguably the ultimate display of South Africa’s undeniably colourful culture.

It all began in 1862, when a group of civil servants squared off against soldiers and played what is now documented as the first soccer match in South African history. It was only 17 years later that the first soccer club was established – the Pietermaritzburg County Football Club. Of course, things changed as the years wore on, and the country faced a number of challenges. But a cultural revolution had begun, and no amount of political turmoil and civil unrest could destroy the pride that had invaded our society.

By the time the 2000’s swung around, a number of soccer teams and leagues had found their place in the sporting world, and a distinctly African soccer culture had emerged. Crowds had now transformed from exclusively white members of the government to resplendent groups of Diski dancing revellers clad in their team’s colours, the South African flag and ‘traditional’ makarapas (decorated mining helmets), each blowing on a brightly coloured vuvuzela and singing their hearts out to 2Shosholoza. Just as your ears begin to adjust to the hubbub, there is an eruption of noise and “Laduuuuuma!” reverberates off the stadium walls – Katlego Mashego has just shot a bazooka into the back of the net!

With a history dating back over a century, it is no surprise that soccer is considered an important part of the country’s history. And after being the first African country to successfully host a FIFA World Cup, it has become more than a sport. It has changed the face of society by inspiring people in townships and other disadvantaged areas to follow their dreams and believe that no matter where you come from, you are capable of anything. The simple truth is that soccer is not going to transform South Africa into a place of unlimited wealth and prosperity, and it is not going to right all the wrongs, but it gives the people of this nation hope, and sometimes that is all it takes to change a country.

South Africa, “alive with possibility”, is arguably one of the world’s favourite tourist destinations. This is probably one of the main reasons it was selected to host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup – an honour that excited the entire country. The gees was tangible, and the people of South Africa all united to form a welcoming atmosphere for the thousands of visitors who flocked to our shores for the event. As with any occasion of this magnitude, several revamps and renovations needed to be made. The bevy of stadiums across the country were first on this list, with the country’s biggest venues being upgrading to world-class, state-of-the-art settings. Have a look at some of South Africa’s biggest sporting stadiums, each of which encapsulates the spirit of the country’s people:

Soccer City, Johannesburg

3With a seating capacity of 94 736, this stadium’s design was inspired by a traditional African pot known as a calabash. The upgrade included a larger upper tier, revamped changing rooms, brand new floodlights and an encircling roof, all of which transformed the FNB Stadium into Soccer City – one of the 20 biggest stadiums in the world. Naturally, this became the host venue for both the opening and closing matches, which saw Spain take home the golden trophy in 2010.

Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town

Previously known as Green Point Stadium, Cape Town Stadium was renovated to include 68 000 seats. In just 33 short months, the stadium was completely transformed into the world class venue that it is today – at a cost of R4.4 billion, or roughly $600 million. Since the end of the World Cup, the City of Cape Town has put this architectural delight to good use, as it is now the go-to location for almost every international music concert, sporting event or party.

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

4This stadium truly is one of a kind. With 54 000 seats, it formed the perfect space for soccer fans from around the world to embrace the beauty of the game. In the wonderfully warm climate of Durban, the Moses Mabhida Stadium offers visitors 360 degree ocean and city views. It is also the only stadium in the world that offers the Big Rush Big Swing – a swing from the spectacular arch above the arena.

Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

During the 2010 Soccer World Cup, Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium hosted four games. This stadium’s design elements are a tribute to Africa’s Big Five. At just 40 kilometres away from the famed Kruger National Park, the stadium’s design is reflective of the beautiful Mpumalanga Lowveld, and serves as a constant reminder of the African spirit.

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

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Port Elizabeth, one of South Africa’s windiest cities, has a stadium that was specifically designed to protect soccer spectators from howling winds. With a capacity of 46 000, this stadium is positioned in the heart of the Eastern Cape, a region famed for its beauty and cultural awareness. Since the end of the World Cup, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is still used for soccer games, as well as rugby and cricket matches and a number of local and international concerts.

With the 2014 games kicking off, we can’t help reminiscing about South Africa’s 2010 FIFA glory and feeling that familiar thrill only ‘the beautiful game’ can elicit. An unmistakable sense of excitement has settled over the country, and despite not qualifying for this World Cup, South Africans are still ready to cheer on the other countries and celebrate the only way they know how – with wild exuberance and that old South African flair the rest of the world has grown to love.

Image credits:

www.stadiumguide.com
www.durban-tourism.com
www.nelsonmandelabay.gov.za
www.dailymaverick.co.za
www.amazon.com

Five essential mobi sites for the itchy-footed traveller

Cell phones have become one of the greatest companions on any outing, adventure or tour with the compact devices providing entertainment, security, products and, thankfully, maps. These mobisites are a great alternative to the costly affair of downloading apps with their free, sleek and secure set up providing you with everything you need on your grand adventure.

Google

Where would any of us be without the titan that is Google? Like Atlas, the search engine carries the weight of the world on its shoulders with millions upon millions of searches entered every day. Whether you’re looking for a restaurant, accommodation, transport or even ‘googling’ one of the names in this list, Google is the essential mobisite.

Wikipedia

Another must in any bookmarks tab is the ever-knowing Wikipedia. This paragon of collected knowledge has information on almost everything, all at your disposal. Whether you want to check out some local sites, read up on the history of some pokey little town or waste some time playing the Wikipedia game, you’ll find all the information you need.

Drive Africa Mobisite

Drive Africa’s new mobisite is a secure and convenient portal to all things car rental. Long term rentals and car hire for under 21/23 year olds make sure you can find the perfect deal, no matter your distance or age. Drive Africa’s specialized delivery service makes this even more convenient with a simple form – all that’s required to get you your vehicle. Bookmark it now and experience the secure site’s portal to mobility and adventure.

Reader

Reader is the e-reader that doesn’t require a download, with a slick interface emulating its data heavy cousins. Reader is versatile, allowing you to upload your own downloaded books, import documents and borrow from a built-in library. The ‘night-time’ setting is also a highlight, providing you with a comfortable dim light for late night travels.

Zoho Mobile

While some of us wouldn’t like to admit it, sometimes work needs to be done while on holiday. For this, there is Zoho Mobile, an online suite of web-based productivity apps. Emails, invoices, calendars, memos and the like are all available without any time wasted downloading an entire office suite. This simple system makes the goliath task of holiday work quick and easy.

These sites are well worth bookmarking for any trip you may have planned with their easy access, lack of download time and secure operations a saving grace on any trip to the unknown.